Update - Study Shows More Sex, Violence in Prime Time

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

1st add: Includes additional network reactions, additional background.

(Editor's Note: Contains language some readers may find objectionable.)

(CNSNews.com) - Children watching prime time television during the so-called 'family hour' are being exposed to more sex, violence and vulgarity than ever before, according to a new study by a television advocacy group.

The Parents Television Council Tuesday released its report of network television programming and found that the "combined per-hour average of objectionable content" between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. ET increased 75% from February 1998, with an average of nearly seven references per hour that pertained to sex, violence or vulgar language.

A summary of the media watchdog group's findings also showed that 68 percent of the programs broadcast during that time frame contained sexual material. The PTC analyzed 60 different programs from May 13 through May 26, 1999, a period of time known in the television industry as the 'May Sweeps,' when networks broadcast what they believe to be their best programming.

Among the broadcast networks covered by the study, including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and WB, programming on the Fox network was deemed the most objectionable in the report, which noted that 100 percent of the network's shows in the analysis contained what the PTC called "offensive material."

The organization defined such material as references to sexual activity or sex organs, explicit acts of violent behavior and vulgarities including words like 'bitch,' 'bastard' 'sucks' and variations or censored instances of the word 'fuck.'

Excluded from the criteria was "conduct such as kissing, flirtation and ambiguous suggestiveness," and what the PTC called "milder profane language," including words like 'damn' and 'hell.'

The PTC report also concluded that Fox had the greatest amount of objectionable material, with 11 instances per hour of programming studied. CBS was characterized as the "least offensive network" with an average of 3.62 objectionable instances per hour.

The rise in violence, vulgarity and sexual references in early evening programming shows that "there's no effort on the part of the industry to clean up the content of prime time," according to Mark Honig, executive director of the PTC.

But a top executive for the WB network disputed Honig's assessment. "I think shows like Seventh Heaven, Safe Harbor and Sister Sister among others rank the WB with more hours of family programming than any other network," said Brad Turell, executive vice president of network communications for WB.

"We're probably being more proactive than any other network," in creating family-friendly television, Turell told CNSNews.com. WB is involved in the Family Friendly Forum, a group of advertisers promoting the development of TV shows with a broader family appeal.

The PTC has applauded WB programs like Seventh Heaven for their family appeal, and Turell defended the network's decision to produce and air what he called "cutting edge, young adult dramas and urban programming," in addition to programming targeting families with younger viewers.

"We're just as proud of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek" as any other show on WB, Turell said. Specific examples of violent, sexual and profane content in those two programs were specifically cited in the PTC report.

ABC Television Vice President of Communications Edward Dandridge told CNSNews.com that he had not reviewed the PTC report and wouldn't comment on its findings. Dandridge noted that network is preparing to launch its new Fall season and said the study is "probably not accurate," because it examined programming in May 1999.

Earlier this year, a different study by the PTC that analyzed network programming from 1996 through 1998, concluded that ABC had "aired far more offensive programming" than other broadcast networks during the period of the research.

ABC dismissed the study as "seriously flawed," but refused to respond to an offer by the PTC to donate $100,000 to the charity of the network's choice if an independent analysis of the data disproved the study results.

Paul McGuire, senior vice president of media relations for UPN, wouldn't discuss the study or its results. "On behalf of UPN, I will decline to comment on this subject," said McGuire.

An official with Fox said he could not comment on the study's findings without having reviewed them. Officials with CBS and NBC did not return multiple telephone calls by CNSNews.com seeking comment.

Particularly troubling, said Honig, is the increase in sexual and violent content. "The utter lack of consequences (of sex) gives children and teenagers a false sense of what is and is not responsible behavior," said Honig. "And when it comes to violence, it de-sensitizes people, both young and old."

Recent efforts to block violent programming or inform families about questionable content, like the V-chip and a more specific ratings and content system for TV shows, don't appear to have resulted in less sex and violence on broadcast television.

"Despite their claims that they're try to take responsibility, be it with a ratings system or a V-chip, this study shows that the content is worse than ever, and it appears that Hollywood is making no effort to address this issue," said Honig.

The Parents Television Council is a subsidiary of the Media Research Center, the parent organization of CNSNews.com.